A Prairie Home Companion is a 2006 ensemble comedy elegy directed by Robert Altman, his final film released just five months before his death. It is based on A Prairie Home Companion, a program broadcast on public radio stations in the United States and elsewhere. The film is a fictional representation of behind-the-scenes activities on a long-running radio show of the same name.
Five of the stars (Garrison Keillor, Kevin Kline, Lily Tomlin, John C. Reilly, Virginia Madsen) as well as all the other members of the cast of the film (except Sue Scott, Meryl Streep and Lindsay Lohan) are midwesterners. Three (Tommy Lee Jones, Woody Harrelson and L. Q. Jones) are from Texas, the state given rough treatment by the WLT cast and crew.
Because the Fitzgerald is a rather small building, other stage theaters in the Minneapolis-St. Paul region had been considered as stand-ins. With some effort, the necessary film equipment was crammed into the structure. The basement was also used for sets due to lack of space. Set design also had to make the show more visually interesting, and fake dressing rooms were used in the film (the movie's production designer noted that Keillor's actual dressing room is "about the size of a very, very small bathroom"). Mickey's Diner, a landmark of downtown St. Paul, is also featured.
On November 1, 2005, the Star Tribune reported that an early screening in New York City for film distributors resulted in a heavy bidding war. Picturehouse bought the rights, and company President Bob Berney, "aiming to capitalize on the name recognition of the 31-year-old radio program, recommended that the title revert to A Prairie Home Companion. 'At the screening, Garrison said that to broaden the film's appeal, they were thinking about changing the name to Savage Love, so we may have an argument there,' Berney said." The main potential audience for the film is people familiar with the radio program.
The general reaction to the film by critics was favorable, as it garnered an 80% "fresh" rating at Rotten Tomatoes, a site that tallies prominent reviews. Roger Ebert awarded the film four out of four stars, saying, "What a lovely film this is, so gentle and whimsical, so simple and profound.
It had its detractors, however. Film critic Michael Medved gave the film one and a half stars (out of four) saying, "The entertainment value stands somewhere between thin and non-existent" and, "[it may be] the worst movie ever made that pooled the talents of four (count ‘em - four!) Oscar winners
Desson Thomson from The Washington Post came between the two, saying that while the movie had its strengths, it was weaker than it should have been, in a review headlined "Honey, You Could Ask For More" (a reference to the opening theme song of the radio show and film).
Meryl Streep won the Best Supporting Actress Award from the National Society of Film Critics for her role in this and The Devil Wears Prada; Altman was also posthumously nominated for an Independent Spirit Award for Best Director.